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Purposeful Leadership Revisited

Purposeful Leadership Revisited

Leadership development expert, Mark Hannum, explains how to be a great and purposeful leader by asking yourself important questions.

“What qualities make a great leader” is a question I’m often asked.  Everyone is looking for the simple, easy answer. But there is no simple answer I say! There is no list of qualities or skills. Purposeful leadership is available to all of us regardless of whether or not we are introverted or extroverted, confident or unsure, experienced or inexperienced. So what does set the purposeful leader apart? 

The word “purposeful” means intentional, even thoughtful or mindful. So the purposeful leader acts out of some form of intentionaly. They think and they act. Or, as we put it, they are purposeful. 

Another way of thinking about this “quality” of purposefulness is to ask yourself, “what gets you off your couch?” Ask yourself, what moves me? What creates enough concern in me, that I actually get up and do something about it? What gets you from being the voyeur or a spectator to becoming a player?

I’m currently coaching a younger leader in a fairly large retail corporation.  She married a few years ago into an instant family. Their nine-year old son loves basketball, the one sport that my coachee knows nothing about. But early last fall, the coaching situation in the league was pretty desperate, and my coachee volunteered to be an assistant coach for her son’s team. 

Ready. Set. Binge watch YouTube videos on coaching basketball! She didn’t know what she was doing, but in a few short weeks she was competently assisting a coach who did know what to do. And in a few short weeks, she was also attending the league meetings. She was even quicker in picking up the issues and rhythms of organized youth basketball! And just as importantly, she could see the organization’s gaps and problems. She cared about what she was seeing, and what she wasn’t seeing….and she decided to get off her metaphorical couch and become a player in managing and organizing youth basketball in her town. She listened, she built an understanding of what was and was not happening, and she offered up her leadership to take on a few things. The league’s leadership accepted her offer. 

By Thanksgiving there were some major turnarounds in the league’s finances, recruiting of coaches and assistants, and even a major upgrade in facilities. With a concerned, purposeful leader, the league saw a resurgence…now on hold with Covid-19. Her concerns about the league turned into goals and actions. The organizing skills she has developed as a corporate leader helped her to engage and play as a leader of a youth basketball league. But it started when something about the situation got her off her couch. She went from voyeur to player. She got into the game!

Leadership is an act of concern. It is an act of deliberately working to change a set of outcomes by working with people to make something happen. We say that leadership involves inspiring people, engaging people, organizing people, and developing an innovation or change that brings about that something that needs to happen.  

How do you “BECOME” a leader?

For the next two weeks, I want you to try an exercise. I want you to journal about your day every day for the next two weeks. I want you to notice what kinds of things you mostly observe and what kinds of things make you want to engage – really engage. What makes you want to be in the role of a leader (not always “the” leader)? 

The woman I coach who took on her town’s youth basketball works for a retail company. When we did this journaling exercise, her ‘get off the couch’ moment always came when the subject involved inventory management. To her, inventory management was a huge puzzle that involved every store in the system, every store manager, all their distributors, and everyone in the product and marketing organizations.  Running or managing a store didn’t rise to the level of getting her off of her couch. Being a product manager didn’t really excite her either. But inventory management, the giant puzzle of skews, trucks, locations, and customer preferences almost had her salivating to be in the game. It is several years later and she is second in command of inventory management for her company. And again we are asking her the question, when you look at the bigger context of how your company is operating, what game do you want to play? Where do you want to lead? What concerns do you see that will get you off your coach?

You see, what sets apart a leader is not how tall they are, or how polished they are!  Its not how confident they are! It is not their ability to stand in front of a group and give a great speech.  It is not their acumen with an excel spreadsheet. What sets apart the leader is their engagement in the game, their commitment if you will. They got off the couch when no one else was willing to. And because they got off their couch, they engaged you to get off of yours. They put time and effort into organizing people and things. They made something happen that was different, an innovation, and that built a glide-path to an accomplishment. 

What gets you off your metaphorical couch?

To read more from Mark Hannum, check out his book, Become.
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Purposeful Leadership Revisited
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Mark Hannum is Senior Vice President of Research and Assessments at Linkage, Inc., where he helps senior teams and executives improve organizational and business results through leadership effectiveness.